Andrew Dodson: How to build a Nuclear Power Plant in your Backyard (Make America Nuclear Again)(e005)

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Andrew Dodson is one of the smartest hackers I know. Our conversations typically happen over coffee and Go (the ancient board game). We talk about physics and simulation theory. In fact, he once loaned me Simulations by Jean Baudrillard and I never returned it (sorry Andrew!).

In episode 5 of Hacker Practice, I get started down a line of conversation I’ve been meaning to have for a long time.

I am deeply interested in sustainable technology. At the moment of writing I live on a small organic farm. My hands are literally dirty from playing in the greenhouse. No lie.

That’s why I spent most of this episode talking with Andrew about small-scale nuclear power. How can we do this on a farm or even neighborhood scale? Government regulation be damned!

Disclaimer: Andrew was calling in from a lab at MIT. There is a short interruption early in the episode that gives us a glimpse into a stealth nuclear startup at America’s best engineering school.

Learn the basics of nuclear power and more in today’s episode of Hacker Practice:

[2:45] Extreme Laser Tag – The greatest startup idea ever.

  • Graphene
  • Photodiodes
  • TENS Units
  • Extreme laser tag at low-orbit

[6:45] A welcome interruption from Dodson’s colleague, Matthias the super genius.

  • Postdoc gerbils
  • A brief peek inside a stealth nuclear startup…

[8:20] Andrew discusses boundaries necessary for working in startups

  • “People show who they are in their face”
  • “Startups can be… top heavy”
  • “These faces raise money… to get real people you need to be real people”

[10:30] Molten salt reactors

  • Ionic Compounds
  • Alternative to traditional light water reactors
  • Uranium fuel rods get hot, very hot.
  • How neutrons bouncing around cause nuclear chain reactions in enriched uranium fuel rods

[17:20] Components of a reactor

[18:20] Why higher temperatures are desirable

  • Why higher temperatures can be dangerous
  • “Spray a bunch of people with steam… coming out of a pressurized water reactor…that you can’t see… it’ll cut you in half.”
  • It’s all just a way to spin a pinwheel

[20:00] How to get started with nuclear engineering at home

[26:20] How could we put one of these nuclear reactors in your back yard

  • In the early days, small cores were all the rage
  • Highly enriched uranium is useful here (10-20 cm across)
  • High quality uranium fuel is a “political risk”
  • Where to find 99% enriched uranium
  • Building a vehicle-sized nuclear bomb

[29:20] What about Fukushima? Chernobyl Three Mile Island

  • They are blown out of proportion according to Dodson
  • Fossil fuels kill millions every year. Relatively, nuclear is extremely safe
  • Our generation (Y) needs to pursue this, NOW.

[31:25] Powering a farm with nuclear

  • Security concerns

[34:00] An ideal world where security is not a problem

  • Bury a cargo container with a reactor and turbine on the surface
  • Power my neighborhood for 40 years
  • Small reactors power aircraft carriers
  • Nuclear engineering secrets (hint: they’re military)

[36:30] Sources of fuel-quality Uranium

  • Downblending
  • Different grades of Uranium (civilian, weapons, etc)
  • How much Uranium costs per kilogram and where to get it

[38:30] Got the fuel, now what?

  • Shielding considerations
  • Burying the tank

[39:00] We built the reactor, what are my security precautions?

  • During operation
  • In case of a breach/leak
  • Radioactive worms
  • Basically: keep as much of it underground as you can
  • Worst-case scenario
  • Why you should eat plenty of spinach and fish

[51:15] Where to find Andrew (andrewmdodson@gmail.com)

  • Reach out to Andrew with the project you’re working on, it’s current status, and what your role is on the project.

Now What?

Go and design a miniature nuclear power plant! Then tell me about it!

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